Coun­try life in Scot­land un­der threat: EU of­fi­cial

BREXIT: Claim peo­ple ‘es­sen­tially be­ing kept on the land’ by Euro­pean sub­si­dies

The Courier & Advertiser (Dundee Edition) - - NEWS - GARETH MCPHER­SON PO­LIT­I­CAL ED­I­TOR gm­cpher­son@the­

Ru­ral life in Scot­land faces dev­as­ta­tion if farm­ing sub­si­dies in the UK are slashed af­ter Brexit, an EU of­fi­cial has warned.

Smaller pay­ments could see farm­ers stop food pro­duc­tion and force them to aban­don their land, ac­cord­ing to the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion spokesman, rais­ing fears of ru­ral de­pop­u­la­tion.

One MSP has warned re­duced pay­ments “spell dis­as­ter” for those liv­ing out­side towns and cities.

The EU of­fi­cial said agri­cul­ture is “keep­ing peo­ple in the ru­ral coun­try­side” in Scot­land and farm­ers are “es­sen­tially be­ing kept on the land by those sub­si­dies”.

“If those stop you have to ask your­self what is the in­cen­tive for peo­ple to stay on the land,” he told jour­nal­ists in Brus­sels.

“What is the in­cen­tive for them to con­tinue to sus­tain­ably man­age the land?

“And if they don’t, what are the en­vi­ron­men­tal con­se­quences of what would seem on the face of it es­sen­tially to re­sult in land aban­don­ment.”

The of­fi­cial said this will ac­cel­er­ate ru­ral de­pop­u­la­tion and stop mak­ing those com­mu­ni­ties vi­able.

He added: “The re­al­ity is all of our ter­ri­to­ries are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly ur­banised. Peo­ple are mov­ing into towns and we need to sus­tain ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties. I’m not say­ing farm­ers are the back­bone of ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties but a lot of ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties re­volve around small agri-food busi­nesses.

“To keep peo­ple in the ru­ral coun­try­side you have to keep the ser­vices. So the school stays, the phar­macy stays, the lo­cal stays.”

The UK is to op­er­ate its own sub­sidy sys­tem from 2021 af­ter leav­ing the EU’s Com­mon Agri­cul­tural Pol­icy, which de­liv­ers £3 bil­lion a year to do­mes­tic farm­ers.

En­vi­ron­ment Sec­re­tary Michael Gove has said the new sys­tem will re­ward farm­ers who pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment.

Mike Rum­bles, the North East MSP for the Lib Dems, said: “Brexit ab­so­lutely must not be al­lowed to take a scythe to our ru­ral re­gions.”

A De­fra spokesper­son said: “The UK Govern­ment has com­mit­ted the same cash to­tal for farm sup­port in all parts of the UK un­til 2022.

“This pro­vides more cer­tainty than any other EU mem­ber state.”

“Agri­cul­ture is a de­volved is­sue so it is rightly up to the Scot­tish Govern­ment to de­ter­mine how its farm­ers will be sup­ported, tak­ing into ac­count their own geo­graph­i­cal and en­vi­ron­men­tal cir­cum­stances.”

In six months the United King­dom will leave the Euro­pean Union and all sides seem to be in­volved in brinkman­ship. Theresa May once again faces the pos­si­bil­ity of res­ig­na­tions from her Cab­i­net as she tries to find a com­pro­mise in her po­si­tion that will both please Brus­sels and sur­vive a vote in the House of Com­mons.

Mean­while, the Demo­cratic Union­ist Party con­tin­u­ally churns out threats of ac­tion that would amount to bring­ing down the Prime Min­is­ter’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, per­haps prov­ing Machi­avelli was cor­rect to say: “Mer­ce­nar­ies and aux­il­iaries are use­less and dan­ger­ous; and if one holds his state based on these arms, he will stand nei­ther firm nor safe.”

We re­veal to­day that EU of­fi­cials are warn­ing of the threat to ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties if fund­ing cur­rently ad­min­is­tered by the bloc is not matched by the UK Govern­ment af­ter next March. This is no doubt an­other move by some within the bloc to ma­noeu­vre it­self into a bet­ter ne­go­ti­at­ing po­si­tion.

Real lives will feel the ef­fect of po­lit­i­cal games, how­ever. Our ru­ral econ­omy is vi­tal not just for those farm­ers and their fam­i­lies who de­pend di­rectly on it but for lo­cal high streets, shops and sup­pli­ers.

Ne­go­ti­a­tions are close to con­clu­sion one way or an­other, then it will be over to elected politi­cians in Lon­don and Brus­sels. All must con­sider how their votes will im­pact on the peo­ple they are paid to serve, their con­stituents.

Pic­ture: Wul­lie Marr Pho­tog­ra­phy.

Scot­tish Sec­re­tary David Mun­dell and En­vi­ron­ment Sec­re­tary Michael Gove at the Royal High­land Show. Mr Gove says farm­ers who pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment will be re­warded.

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